Imagine if your skin had the ability to keep intruders out with an invisible forcefield. It would light up, and have that characteristic “zzzppp” sound, like on Star Trek. Its function would be to keep bacteria & viruses from getting in, like they’re a horde of troublesome Ferengi. The good news is that your skin does have an invisible forcefield. I know, cool, right? The bad news is that you may be unwittingly destroying it, leaving yourself vulnerable to an invasion.
The Acid Mantle
Your skin’s forcefield has many names. It is most commonly known as the Acid Mantle, or the Skin Barrier Function. We’ll just call it the Acid Mantle since that sounds way cooler. It is made up of sweat, lipids, and a range different acids. Amongst other things, it helps to boost your immune system by retarding the growth of bacteria on your skin’s surface. If your Acid Mantle is knocked out of balance, it can allow foreign bodies to pass through your skin to enter your bloodstream. It is knocked out of balance when your skin’s pH gets too alkaline, or, less common, too acidic.
A Quick Lesson in pH
pH stands for “potential Hydrogen” and is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. If a substance is acidic it has a pH between 0 and 6.9 – the lower the number the more acidic the substance. If a substance is neutral it has a pH of exactly 7. If a substance is alkaline it has a pH between 7.1 and 14 – the higher the number the more alkaline the substance. The skin’s pH is, on average, 5.5. This means that it is slightly acidic.
How Does The Skin’s pH Get Out of Balance?
The skin’s pH can be influenced by a number of factors, both internal and external. While an extensive review of all of these factors is beyond the scope of this article, we will talk about the most important external factor that changes your skin’s pH, and that is soaps/detergents. Washing with conventional soap causes pH to increase by an average of 3 points, and can take more than 90min to return to normal. That is because conventional soaps are extremely alkaline.
The stripping effect of harsh alkaline soaps isn’t the only thing washing away your Acid Mantle. Shampoo running down your face & body is also another common culprit. This is because most shampoos contain Sodium Lauryl,or Laureth, Sulfate (SLS). SLS is so consistently disruptive to the pH balance of the skin that it is used in scientific studies to do just that.
What Do I Do Now?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. In a study on the long-term effect of using alkaline soap vs. an acidic cleanser, it was determined that “the long-term use of soap does not affect the pH-maintenance mechanism of human skin.”
The bad news is that frequent hand washing with harsh soaps, and/or alcohol-based sanitizers, does destroy this barrier. If you are someone who works in a field – like nursing, or food preparation – which requires frequent hand washing, you can’t just stop washing your hands because of this. Luckily, for you moisturizers have been shown to improve the barrier function of the skin. So, if you are someone who absolutely must wash your hands frequently, you may want to invest in a good moisturizer – like Kaiya Naturals Moisturizer for Dry Skin.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.